I Gained 60 Pounds and Didn’t Wear a Swimsuit for Five Years—Until This One
I used to look forward to swimsuit shopping. My college town in Missouri didn't have many places to go, but thank God there was a Target. This was back in the late 2000s, when talking about Mossimo meant deciding between colorfully printed mix-and-match bikinis—not college bribery scandals—and when I was a size 6.
Buying a bikini was never exactly pleasant. When you're working with boobs above a C-cup, it rarely is. And regardless of your size, no one wants to stand half-naked in a poorly lit dressing room with a piece of sanitary lining crinkling against their crotch. But back then, when I'd walk into a stall with nine different options, I was fairly certain I'd come away with at least two suits.
Missouri might not have an ocean, but it has rivers, and let me tell you, we know how to make the most of them. (Google "float trip" and enjoy.) But when I eventually left to move to New York, the amount of time I spent in a swimsuit went down dramatically. Public pools were far too crowded, and as an entry-level millennial in a bad economy, I sure as hell didn't have any big vacations planned. The few times I did have the chance to put one on, I'd throw on one of two former spring break purchases I'd brought with me to the city: a black-and-white polka-dot halter and bright blue leopard-print string bikini (2009, lol). I wore them until the spandex gave out and the strings snapped.
That was in 2013. I didn't buy another swimsuit for five years.
A year flew by, then another, which corresponded with the rise of two things: Instagram culture and my weight. I won't go into the details (getting a runner's injury, changing jobs, losing a parent, struggling with depression), because they ultimately don't matter to this story. What did matter—to me, at least—is that in the five years between when I threw out my two swimsuits and last summer, I had gained a total of 60 pounds.
Over that time, as my body changed, my procrastination to buy a new suit took on a life of its own. I didn't just dread it; I feared it. What if I couldn't find a suit that looked good with my 34E boobs? What if I couldn't find a suit that fit at all? I was already having a hard enough time finding size 12 jeans I could squeeze my ass into. I didn't have the mental energy to find out whether the same would be true for swimsuits.
Not only that, Instagram (as it is today) didn't exist the last time I'd been in a swimsuit, and neither did the pressure to take 50 snaps to get the perfect "influencer walking into the ocean" shot. (You know the one.) Every photo I'd taken of myself in a swimsuit up until that point had been with an arm around a friend or in a group. It was about capturing the enjoyment of the moment, not staging it for likes. I wish I could say the latter didn't effect me, but it did. Profoundly. I cared about how I looked, and even more about what others would think when the photo of me scrolled across their phone.
My solution was simple: I simply didn't buy a swimsuit.
I spent summer after summer making up excuses for why no one ever saw me in a bikini. On work trips (which, perks of the beauty industry, are often to spas or tropical resorts), I'd fake being mad at myself for "forgetting" to pack my swimsuit. ("How could I?!" "Damn, just go without me. It's totally fine.") On weekends with friends at beach, I'd point to my sunburn-prone skin as the reason why I wouldn't take off my cover-up, knowing fully well I had absolutely no intention of revealing I had on only a regular bra and underwear.
This carried on until last year, when four of my best friends, my boyfriend, and I booked tickets for a weeklong trip to Hawaii. It was my first real adult vacation—to celebrate turning 30!—and the stress of finding at least one suit to get me through the week was looming over me like the clouds on Maui's mountain range.
Where did I even start? I had no idea what my size was, but I was pretty certain anything straight-size wouldn't cut it. (Even as a size 6, I'd often have to buy XLs to fit my curves.) I still had yet to buy clothing in proper plus sizes, and my feelings about it were complicated. But I felt fortunate to know that I least had options. I've long been a fan of advocates like Gabi Gregg and Ashley Graham, who have not only spoken out the lack of cool, comfortable swimwear for curvy shoppers, but have set out to fill that void by designing styles themselves. I constantly think about how if I'd been plus-size earlier in my life, I might have never returned to wearing a swimsuit at all.
I spent hours trolling through pages of plus-size swimsuits online. I fell in love with at least 10 different styles from Gregg's and Graham's collections with Swimsuits for All. (This one is in my cart as I type.) But as much as I was into them, I felt sick to my stomach that I'd order the wrong size and ultimately give up in my search.
It was time to face the dressing room again—which obviously meant a trip to Target.
The retailer has been at the forefront of plus-size swim for a few years now. I applauded when it released swimwear images of models with stretch marks and cellulite, much like my thighs and boobs have. The Internet said Target had a range of extended sizes from 16 to 26 in stores, so I took notes of the styles I liked (black, one-piece, with cool details that didn't make me look matronly), and hopped into an Uber.
The second I stepped into the stall, all the annoying, familiar feelings came rushing back: the dingy lighting that somehow highlights every single dimple on your thigh; the awkward sensation of your underwear bunching as you pull on a pair of bottoms over them. But there was another that blocked the noise of everything else out. For the first time in forever, I felt the joy of finding a swimsuit that's so perfectly me (and, you know, also made my boobs look great).
This black one-piece was everything. The nylon-spandex blend was comfortable and fully lined, as were the soft, molded cups that offered great support. The leg holes were cut wide and high so they didn't dig into my thighs, while the back offered good butt coverage. The straps were adjustable too—just like a bra—so you could set them however looked and felt best. And it had mesh cutouts, which are perfect if you want a peek of skin. I loved how it looked so much I didn't even care it was a size 20. I bought it, and one other black one-piece for Hawaii. And I wore the shit out of them the entire week.
Even better: This year Target actually launched a new and improved version of my one-piece from its new in-house line Kona Sol. It has all the elements I love and want: the supportive cups, the wide-cut leg holes, the adjustable straps, the cutouts. And because it's Target, it's only $40.
I wish I could say a swimsuit could magically erase the years of mental warfare I've had with my body. But that's just not how dismantling beauty ideals works. It takes time and constant challenging of what we've been taught to believe for years—that having fat or cellulite somehow makes you less than. I know it doesn't, and yet the number of swimsuit photos I took of myself in the most beautiful place on earth totals a whopping number of zero. A friend did catch one of me though. It's candid, it's cute, and I look happy in it (probably because we were in deep discussion about Garrett Yrigoyen—Bachelor drama!), which makes me wish I'd taken more.
But that's the thing about a great swimsuit. I know I'll wear it everywhere this summer. Maybe this time I'll have proof.
Lindsay Schallon is the senior beauty editor at Glamour. Follow her @lindsayschallon on Instagram.
Originally Appeared on Glamour